Montag, 10. Oktober 2016

Remembrance by the Few, Silence of the Many. Three Landings and 29 Bodies at Pozzallo.

"I left after having spent 40 days in a bunker in Libya. I was threatened with death, robbed of my documents, tied up and beaten. I lost all sense of time, I couldn't tell when it was night or day. It was only on arrival in Italy that I properly understood how much time had passed. Looking at myself, I hardly recognise who I am anymore.”

Photo: the MOAS Topaz Responder, at Pozzallo.
Thus began 'M's voyage to Europe, and along with him that of thousands of migrants who cross the Canal of Sicily. This includes those who do not manage to get to Italy alive, and also those who, once they land, are arrested as “suspected boat drivers”, and thrown in jail. We find out about this through the accounts of those we meet who just after arrival, or after months, during a calm chat, feel the need to give us their own “version” of the facts, sadly aware of not being believed because theirs is far from the “official” and dominant versions provided by those who reconstruct the experiences of others on the basis of their own interests. We also know it through the visible bodily marks, and the invisible ones left on the mind, which those who arrive carry with them.

On October 3rd, the national day “in memory of the victims of immigration”, we heard many words, promises, attempts to describe and remember the daily massacre witnessed by thousands of people who risk their lives to reach our coasts. That very day, hundreds of migrants were landed in various Sicilian ports, and the bodies of others who died at sea were recovered. The commemorative discussions woven by institutional representatives are in truth very distant from what's happening at the landing sites themselves, and not only there. In the late afternoon of October 3rd, 326 migrants arrived at Pozzallo, including 15 minors, on MOAS's Topaz Responder. Men, women and children who had left Libya, mainly from Subsaharan and North Africa but also Eritrea, Ethiopia and Pakistan, crammed to the point of overcrowding on the ship. Among them there were some Nigerian women, who were the first to touch ground. And then, true enough, the now well-known script of hurriedly catching the “suspected boat driver” is played out on the quay: promises of help, recurring photographs, excited checks and meetings, all managed by the police with their mediators along with Frontex, all leading to an approach which has no respect for the situation of those who have just set foot on dry land after a potentially fatal journey. The identification of witnesses, detained separately from the other migrants, and the arresting of suspected boat drivers is increasingly the principle activity at the dock, leaving only scraps of space for a “humane” welcoming. But in reality what counts everyday are numbers and demonstrations of force and security, not people and their right to be protected, and for the stories to be understood. This is the reason why, although there are transferrals planned for Tuesday, the investigations have simply become more ruthless. And like all actions carried out on the edge of legal guarantees, they continue to be covered up by a silence of complicity. The dead at sea can be remembered, but no reference is made to the responsibility of those who do not allow legal routes of flight, and instead continue to force thousands of people to pass through hell on an overcrowded rubber boat. One can accuse Europe of not supporting Italy, but in Brussels there is only a shared opinion on the new, shameful and deeply worrying agreements with Afghanistan, which promise economic assistance in exchange for the deportation of asylum seekers to a country upturned by armed conflicts.

On the day of remembrance the hundreds of unaccompanied minors are also forgotten, along with the other vulnerable subjects who remain for weeks, illegitimately, detained within the Hotspot, and will not be transferred even after new landings. Or, again, the hundreds – almost a thousand people – amassed in the tent-city at the port of Augusta, where adults and minors are systematically left for days, justified with the usual excuses of “organisational problems”. It seems surreal, but for those who arrive in Italy in 2016, even with several hours of warning, it is not possible to even receive a pair of shoes, clothes or a blanket, because there aren't enough made available. The Italy which boasts of saving and welcoming migrants, is the same which continues to systematically violate their fundamental rights.

The hypocritical condolences for the victims at sea goes hand in hand with the official speeches which attempt to blame a lack of European support. If migration policy and management has clearly failed from a humanitarian point of view, the responsibility must of course lie entirely with “others”. The economic and political agreements which our government has also signed are, as if by magic, forgotten. And there's always the same process of “selective” memory which depicts the humanitarian activity of organisations and associations concerned with migration as altruistic and heroic, without making any reference to the substantial revenue and truly shocking amount of money moving through these circuits. The migrant business doesn't exist, and Italy is only a victim of rich Europe's cruel politics. Who knows the reason why, after all these years and tendered public contracts, the managing entities of the reception centres bring in sums of money which seem completely incompetent from a professional point of view, and the educational courses remain few and far between. And why it is the case that migrants continue to flee from Sicily and Italy, even attempting to kill themselves after months spent vegetating in centres with a total lack of any means of communication or basic assistance. This very week we again met some of the unaccompanied minors housed at the Extraordinary Reception Centre (CAS)* recently opened in Pozzallo, managed by the 'Social Action' cooperative. Some of them were transferred a month ago and still wear the same clothes that they received in the Hotspot, because they haven't received any others. They've spent four weeks without even being able to call home, because the CAS* does not distribute telephone cards, and there's no computer with Wi-Fi for them to connect to. And that's not even to mention the situation with documents: for these young men this seems a completely mysterious issue. The only thing they know is that they have been told to wait, and that there is the chance to go to school, even to meet people other than the local who come every now and then to offer them a job or who they meet at the crossroads, refusing to answer even a request for information. On the TV and at the presentations we tell ourselves how great we all are, but unfortunately the relations with migrants continue to be governed by prejudices, and not simply as if they are people. The situations are not understood well, and above all there is a preference not to look to deeply – and those who do are called 'idealists'. In the end our world is based on the poverty of others, and to know it is always “tiring”.

In the meantime refugees continue to meet a militarised border and risk death in their flight. On the morning of October 5th, 428 people arrived at Pozzallo on board the Corsi, rescued in a range of missions, while 1,008 people arrived in Augusta on the navy vessel Libra, and another 1,004 were landed in Catania the day before. The majority of the migrants arrived at the Ragusan port without shoes or jumpers, which in all likelihood they were not able to receive on board. The landing procedure got under way with the separation and identification of around 11 witnesses, who contributed to the arrest of the suspected boat drivers. This will be the headline for the news of yet another arrival, rather than, without doubt, the trauma experienced by those who, all too often, do not even understand where they have arrived and those who, a few days later, will find themselves in the middle of the street. This week more people were rejected from the Hotspot, including Moroccan citizens who told of having received deferred rejection notices without being able to offer up even one word, instead based only on their nationality, while we know that around 40 Tunisians were recently repatriated from Palermo airport.

Photo: MSF's Dignity arrives at Pozzallo
Late yesterday evening, October 9th, 260 migrants reached the Ragusan port on Doctors Without Borders' Dignity, rescued after having left the coast of Sabrata. Mainly coming from Subsaharan Africa there was a strong presence of Sudanese, as well as Egyptians, Eritreans and Libyans, including one young man with Leukaemia. The majority of them were destined to join the other adults and minors in the Hotspot, given that there seemed to be very few immediate transferrals planned. Yesterday again the interrogations were undertaken on the quay itself, and three suspected boat drivers taken away by the waiting police unit. But the images saved for the journalists to photograph will surely by the descent of the women and children assisted first, and certainly not the desperation depicted on the faces of those who are passing from Libyan prisons to Italian ones after having been close to drowning.

On Tuesday the body of a young Nigerian woman arrived at Augusta, who had died from affixiation, probably crushed under the weight of other people, while in the late evening 29 bodies arrived at Pozzallo, previously detained for other ports and after some days recovered from the bay by the port captain's patrol boats. The arrival itself of the bodies is closed off, and all that the press is allowed to see is the bodies' transport after they have been brought to the quay and the medico-legal team have made the first identifications. Among them there were three pregnant women and a minor.

Again the dead pass by in near silence. Perhaps they will be commemorated after some time, so as not to seem to be the victims of a recognisable massacre, and without mentioning the fact that the possibility of legal entry would have saved their lives. What's happening cannot be blamed only on Europe, from whom our politicians dissociate themselves in similar situations so as to sign new accords a moment later, but relates to all of us, as both citizens and as human beings.

Lucia Borghi
Borderline Sicilia

Project "OpenEurope" - Oxfam Italia, Diaconia Valdese, Borderline Sicilia Onlus  

* CAS = Centro di Accoglienza Straordinario

Translation: Richard Braude